A comprehensive plan would increase King County residents’ confidence in local efforts to address the region’s homelessness crisis, and seeing fewer people living on the streets would prove that it’s working, according to a new poll.
Conducted in February by Seattle-based Elway Research, the poll is the latest to explore county residents’ complex feelings about the homelessness crisis and the long-running effort to resolve it.
“What these results tell me is that the average citizen is unsure of what to do, but is willing to strongly support any number of solutions to the problem,” said H. Stuart Elway, president of Elway Research. “And it is a big problem.”
Among the findings: A majority of people said there’s a moral obligation to help homeless people and that solving a complex issue like homelessness will require a communitywide plan supported by local governments, businesses and charities.
Seventy-two percent of those polled said that more than five of every 10 people living on the streets are suffering from a drug or alcohol addiction, although there’s some evidence indicating that it is actually less than half that. In a survey conducted with King County’s 2018 point-in-time count, 35 percent of homeless people reported drug or alcohol abuse.
More poll respondents than not said they favor policies aimed at helping people with mental-health and substance-abuse problems, as well as prevention programs designed to keep people on the brink of homelessness stay in their homes. Seventy-one percent favored increasing the amount of affordable housing in every neighborhood.
The poll was conducted Feb. 21-27 by cellphone and landline, with a sample size of 803 people and a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent. It was paid for by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Campion Advocacy Fund, Raikes Foundation, and Ballmer Group (the Gates, Campion and Raikes foundations also contribute funding to Project Homeless).
Erik Houser, a spokesman for the Campion fund, said the poll was intended to help advocates for the homeless create public relations messages that counter misconceptions of the issues. The results show that people of King County and Seattle are generally compassionate and “they know this is something that affects a lot more people than are visible on the streets,” he said.
Still, the results appear to dovetail with previous surveys showing palpable frustration over unauthorized camping in greenways, especially in Seattle. Fifty-nine percent of the people polled said that the evidence a strategy is working is whether there are fewer people living in public areas in tents and camps.
A previous poll by The Seattle Times, also conducted with Elway Research, found that 55 percent of people polled said they’d like to see a zero-tolerance policy that prevents camping in parks and public spaces.
While frustration over the tent encampments in public spaces is not fading, others say the poll reveals a more nuanced picture of how the public feels about response to the crisis and the people living on the streets and alleyways.
Mark Putnam, executive director of Accelerator YMCA and former head of King County’s coordinating agency for homeless services, said it’s clear that some in the region have lost patience.
But the poll shows that people’s understanding of strategies and solutions to the issue is more sophisticated than is sometimes depicted, he said. “People want to see that visible decrease in homelessness, but they understand that the key to that success is in a progressive approach to mental health and drug issues.”